This patient is on a surveillance programme due to alcoholic liver disease but has never had a bleed. He is maintained on a non-cardioselective β blocker.
WHEN WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THE NEXT SURVEILLANCE EXAMINATION?
■ None, this patient should be offered banding
Correct, if you decide that there are 'red signs' or the varices are grade II or III
■ In 12 months time
Correct, if you decide that there are no 'red signs' and that the varices are grade I
■ In 2-3 years time
Would only be correct if there are no varices at all!
I must admit that I don't like the current surveillance guidelines for patients with portal hypertension. This is a good example why! Although the LFT's had remained stable and the patient had remained abstinent, you could argue that there are 'red signs'. Of course, the presence of 'red signs' predicts progression of varices [J Hepatol 2003;38:266–72] and because the patient is already on a β-blocker, band ligation should now be started. The truth is that 'red signs' are common and have a poor agreement value between endoscopists.
If you decide that there are no 'red signs', and that the varices are grade I only (which depends on the degree of inflation of the oesophagus), the recommendation is to offer surveillance in 1 year.
Finally, if you decide that the varices are now grade II (or III), variceal band ligation would be the logical next step.
Thus, you can make an subjective argument for any of the above three treatment options. Of course, what you decide will be judged in hindsight. If you decide that these are not red signs and the patient re-presents with a bleed in 6 months time, you could be open to criticism for missing signs of progressive liver disease.
Surely, in the modern era of FibroScans, it's possible to predict progression of portal hypertension non-invasively!!! Five years ago, the BAVENO VI workshop only mentioned in passing, that surveillance endoscopies may be avoided in patients with elastography values <20 kPa and a platelet counts >150,000 as these patients are at low risk of progression. Similarly increasing size of the spleen is another warning sign and could be looked for when these patients attend for screening for HCC's.
The American guidelines suggest that there is no need to offer patients with untreated viral cirrhosis a screening endoscopy to search for varices IF elastography is <20 kPa and the platelets are >150. They concede that annual elastography and platelet counts may be less predictive in other causes of cirrhosis. However, the American guidelines advice continued surveillance if varices have been found in the past, particularly if liver injury is ongoing.
The next Baveno conference in October 2021 will hopefully recommend non-invasive monitoring rather than endoscopy. It would be cheaper, less arduous for patients and offer less subjective findings!
The now rather dated BSG guidelines are summarised in the graph below.